FINALIST FOR THE PULITZER PRIZE IN FICTION
WINNER OF THE ANDREW CARNEGIE MEDAL
WINNER OF THE LOS ANGELES TIMES BOOK PRIZE FOR FICTION
WINNER OF THE STONEWALL BOOK AWARD
SHORTLISTED FOR THE NATIONAL BOOK AWARD
Soon to Be a Major Television Event, optioned by Amy Poehler
“A page turner . . . An absorbing and emotionally riveting story about what it’s like to live during times of crisis.” —The New York Times Book Review
A dazzling novel of friendship and redemption in the face of tragedy and loss set in 1980s Chicago and contemporary Paris
In 1985, Yale Tishman, the development director for an art gallery in Chicago, is about to pull off an amazing coup, bringing in an extraordinary collection of 1920s paintings as a gift to the gallery. Yet as his career begins to flourish, the carnage of the AIDS epidemic grows around him. One by one, his friends are dying and after his friend Nico’s funeral, the virus circles closer and closer to Yale himself. Soon the only person he has left is Fiona, Nico’s little sister.
Thirty years later, Fiona is in Paris tracking down her estranged daughter who disappeared into a cult. While staying with an old friend, a famous photographer who documented the Chicago crisis, she finds herself finally grappling with the devastating ways AIDS affected her life and her relationship with her daughter. The two intertwining stories take us through the heartbreak of the eighties and the chaos of the modern world, as both Yale and Fiona struggle to find goodness in the midst of disaster.
The Great Believers has become a critically acclaimed, indelible piece of literature; it was selected as one of the New York Times 10 Best Books of the Year, a Washington Post Notable Book, a Buzzfeed Book of the Year, a Skimm Reads pick, and a pick for the New York Public Library’s Best Books of the year.
|Publisher:||Penguin Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||6.20(w) x 8.90(h) x 1.50(d)|
About the Author
Rebecca Makkai is the author of The Borrower, The Hundred-Year House, which won the Novel of the Year Award from the Chicago Writers Association, and Music for Wartime. Her work has appeared in The Best American Short Stories, Harper's, and Tin House, among others. She lives outside Chicago with her husband and two daughters.
Read an Excerpt
Excerpted from "The Great Believers"
Copyright © 2018 Rebecca Makkai.
Excerpted by permission of Penguin Publishing Group.
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Reading Group Guide
Spanning three decades and two continents, The Great Believers is the story of a group of friends and their stirring emotional journey through the 1980s AIDS crisis in Chicago and its effects on the contemporary lives of survivors.
In 1985, Yale Tishman is the development director at the art gallery at Northwestern University, working to bring in an extraordinary collection of 1920s paintings as a gift from an elderly woman who was once an artist’s model in Paris. Yet as his career begins to flourish, the carnage of the AIDS epidemic grows around him. The novel opens on the funeral day of his late friend Nico. As the virus continues to take its toll on the gay community in Chicago, Yale grows closer to Nico's little sister Fiona, who comes to care for many of Nico's friends.
Thirty years later, Fiona is in Paris tracking down her estranged daughter Claire who disappeared into a cult. While staying with her old friend Richard, a famous photographer who documented the Chicago epidemic, she finds herself surrounded by memories and reminders of that time. Finally, she begins to understand just how profoundly the AIDS crisis affected her life, grappling with what she sacrificed in caring for and loving these men, sacrifices that affected her marriage and her relationship with her daughter. Yale and Fiona’s stories unfold in moving and sometimes surprising ways, as both struggle to find goodness and feel hope in the face of disaster. The Great Believers is a powerful meditation, not on death, but rather on the power and gift of love and friendship.
1. Yale’s group of friends is very close. In a sense, they are his “chosen family.” How is this explored in the book? How does each character relate to their family, biological and chosen? Do you have a “chosen family,” and if so, what brings you all together?
2. How has the culture changed regarding LGBTQ+ voices and stories since the 1980s?
3. Chicago is such a powerful presence in this novel that it is almost a character in itself. Have you ever been to or lived in a place that exerted a strong influence on you?
4. Nora, the elderly woman donating the 1920s pieces, seems completely removed from the rest of Yale’s life, yet her story contains elements that can be compared and contrasted with Yale’s. What similarities between his and her life are there? How has her past affected the present?
5. Fiona has suffered many losses in her life. How do you think that affected her as a mother? What are the ways in which trauma and loss are passed down through generations?
6. Do you empathize more with Fiona or Claire?
7. Do you see any parallels between the state of healthcare during the 1980s and now?
8. On page 353, Asher asks Yale, “Does it really ever go anywhere? . . . Love. Does it vanish?” Yale replies, “I mean, we never want it to. But it does, doesn’t it?” What would you say to them?
9. Is the creation of artwork always a collaborative effort? How do you feel about the relationship between artist and muse?
10. What has been your knowledge of—or experience with, if any—AIDS or those affected by the disease? Has reading this novel changed any ideas you have previously had about the subject?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This well -written and substantial novel recalls a time---the AIDS epidemic --- and the lives of those who survived and those who did not.
I thought it was great. It's hard to imagine a novel dealing with the AIDS crisis primarily described as a "page turner" but it was.
So well done. Compelling, sweet, and sad.
The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai Not since Felice Picano's "Like People in History", or my own "Borrowing Time: A Latino Sexual Oddysey" have I been impressed by a book that documents the AIDS epidemic so vividly. The book opens at the Memorial Service for Nico Marcus, a young man who had died from AIDS two weeks prior in 1985. He was abandoned by his family since he came out and his sister Fiona Marcus Blanchard took care of her brother until the end. The story immediately jumps to 2015 on its second chapter, where Fiona is in Paris searching for her daughter, Claire Yael Blanchard who had recently escaped a cult in Colorado. The chapters keep interacting between 1985 and 2015. Ms. Makkai chooses Yale Tishman, a 31 y/o gay man and Development director of Northwestern's Briggs Gallery to narrate from the third person point of view the story in 1985 to 1991, And Fiona to narrate the story in 2015, also from the third person point of view. Yale, through Fiona's great aunt, Nora Marcus Lerner, stumbles on an unexpected windfall: Nora wants to bequeath her collection of 1920s artwork to the gallery. As it turns out, Nora was in Paris in the 1920s and modeled for a group of artists and was given paintings that are worth millions, if authenticated and restored. Unfortunately, he has to deal with Nora's family and a rich Northwestern donor who don't want to give away the fortune. Also, 1985 Chicago is in the midst of the AIDS epidemic in full force and most of Yale's friends are either infected, dying, or dead. Yale has been in a stable relationship with Charlie Keene for the last five years, but it soon becomes evident that Charlie has been infected -- he cheated on Yale -- and Yale has to deal with the consequences he might be infected too. At the time, it took several weeks to find out you were positive and the stress and fear are quite to evident as Yale deals with his possible health crisis. As his tests come negative, Yale lowers his guard and seduces his boss, Bill Lindsey's -- who is married to a woman--boy toy on the side, Roman. Believing that Roman is in the closet and perhaps a Mormon virgin, Yale has unprotected sex with Roman and becomes infected too. One of Yale's last acts is to go to the inauguration of the art exhibit where Nora's purpose is fulfilled: she was in love with an unknown artist, Ranco Novaks, and wanted him exhibited with the other masterpieces. For Nora, it was the culmination of a 70 y/o love affair. Yale has to deal not only with his mortality but also with the stigma and judgment from contracting AIDS: "The thing is, the disease itself feels like a judgment. We've all got a little Jesse Helms on our shoulder, right? If you got it from sleeping with a thousand guys, then it's a judgment on your promiscuity. If you got it from sleeping with one guy once, that's almost worse, it's like a judgment on all of us, like the act itself is the problem and not the number of times you did it. And if you got it because you thought you couldn't, it's a judgment on your hubris." p. 326 The 2015 plot deals with Fiona and her daughter Claire. Nora introduced Claire to Kurt Pearce and soon thereafter they join a cult: Hossanah Collective. Fiona has a video of Claire in Paris and travels there to stay with her friend, the famous photographer Ricard Campus, who has an apartment at Ille St. Louis. She hires a private investigator who quickly finds Kurt. He has remarried and doesn't want to tell Fiona where Claire i
Check out the full review at Kritters Ramblings Two story lines that overlap from the beginning. In 1985 in Chicago, Yale Tishman narrates the story and he is in the middle of the AIDS crisis as it takes many of his friends. In 2015 Fiona, one of the sisters of one of the first AIDS victims in the 1985 storyline is in Paris trying to reconnect with her daughter. Usually when there are two storylines I like one more than the other and that was the case with this book. I learned so much more and felt more invested in these characters and their story. I know vague details about the AIDS epidemic in general, but am not sure I ever read a book and I really enjoyed learning more about the ins and outs and how much of a stigma these men felt even before they were diagnosed. I also was intrigued to learn about the drama they had within the community and it wasn't all support and love.
While I enjoyed the book, I felt another good-edit was needed for at least the first half of the book.
This novel blew me away. Blew. Me. Away. The two storylines--of Yale in 1980s Chicago, surrounded by the AIDS epidemic and of Fiona in 2015 searching for her missing daughter in Paris--were both so captivating that I'd be disappointed at the end of a chapter because I'd want more of his/her story, only to be thrust into the next one and not wanting that one to end either. Perhaps some of my adoration of this novel is because the 1980s were my formative years, and I spent much of the early '90s volunteering with Gay Men's Health Crisis in New York City. The novel so well touched on the issues (without ever making them seem like Issues with a capital I), weaving them into the story, that it evoked emotions in me that haven't surfaced in years. This novel moved me. I needed to see how it ended but I so didn't want it to end, and the final image is one that haunts. This novel is superb.
Striking, haunting, I'll think of this one for days. Multiple layers across decades leaving the question: if someone leaves your life prematurely, versus sticking with you towards a bitter end, how does your perception of them change? Thanks for the ARC, Netgalley
Thank you to Net Galley for giving me an advance copy of this book. This is in the running to be the best book I read this year and has already gone onto my greatest books ever list. The Great Believers follows Yale, a gay man in 1983, and Fiona, a friend of his searching for her daughter in 2015. The way every character in this book is developed makes them so totally believable, I almost miss them as if they were my friends. This book tackles the AIDs crisis in the 1980s and I found myself sobbing on the subway as I tore through this book to get top the next chapter. The alternating perspectives is done beautifully. This book will be remembered as a masterpiece and I will be following the author's work to see what she has in store for the future!